Tokyo was practically made for design lovers. Between its world-famous street fashion, great food, and amazing architecture, there is something for everyone in this vibrant city. Tokyo has always had much to offer visitors. But in the past ten years, tourism has grown to new heights, much like the skyscrapers in the city’s center.
A visit to the city offers you perspective of the overall design aesthetic found throughout Japan. Thousands-years-old culture and architecture both blend together with and influence ultra-modern art and design (something you’ll also see in pieces from local designers like Issey Miyake, Naoto Fukasawa and Tokujin Yoshioka).
For the perfect design-centric Tokyo trip, be sure to schedule equal parts of energetic sightseeing and relaxation. This shouldn’t be too difficult considering Japan’s taste for both busy nightlife and tranquil tea ceremonies. Here are our tips on the best design-savvy places to stay and see, and fun things to do:
While Tokyo offers a vast variety of places to stay, ranging from boutique hotels with quirky genres (think: monster-themed rooms with giant feet installed from floor to ceiling) to impossibly tall skyscrapers, the Andon Ryokan makes almost every list of “best places to stay.” The hotel mixes traditional Japanese tatami-style hospitality, like futon beds, with western luxuries, like a rooftop bar and spa. Ryokan’s proximity to subway stations and local haunts makes it the perfect place to start and end a day of sightseeing, eating or shopping.
Granbell Hotel Shibuya
The biggest perk of this sleek hotel, apart from its gorgeous contemporary aesthetic, is its central location. The Shibuya district of Tokyo is home to the famed Harajuku neighborhood, a bustling city center and beautiful religious landmarks. The hotel itself is stylish and fashion-forward, with great views of the city from its high-rise rooms.
Shinjuku Kuyakushomae Capsule Hotel
If you’re a serious Japanophile, you may want to consider trying out a capsule hotel, a uniquely Japanese style of lodging that’s as extreme as it is intriguing. Due to Tokyo’s limited space and large population of tourists and visitors, small “rooms” are desirable to city planners and budget travelers alike. Capsule hotel rooms are closer to a bunk bed than they are a room, but most people find they sleep comfortably. While likely not a desirable spot for an extended trip, one night in a capsule could be on your bucket list. (Plus, they’re extremely cost-effective.)
For a place with a little something for everyone, the Claska Hotel offers four different room types: “classic,” for those who want all of the hallmarks of a western hotel, plus beautiful Japanese-style furnishings; “tatami,” in the traditional Japanese style with futon beds and low-lying tables; “contemporary,” which features sleek, refined contemporary furniture and western beds; and “DIY” rooms, which are filled with furniture and accessories created by local makers and craftspeople. Not only does the hotel offer a variety of design styles, but it also features an art gallery on one of its floors for guests and locals to peruse.
Perhaps one of the most memorable sites in Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine is a gorgeous relic of Japan’s Shinto religion, and a monumental tourist site for the city. The shrine is located within the gorgeous Yoyogi Park. So, after you take in the sights of the massive gates, write a wish for good luck at the shrine’s luck wall and wander the grounds, you can take in the rest of the park as well. If you’re lucky, on a Sunday you might be able to view a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony.
Mori Art Museum
The Mori Art Museum is known for its tower that offers panoramic views of Tokyo. But it also has a spectacular architectural layout, as well. While the museum houses no permanent collection, it features travelling exhibitions from around the world, including Ai Wei Wei, Takashi Murakami and others. Whatever is on display, the museum is a lovely respite from the bustle of the city, and–via the Tokyo City View deck–offers a great view of where to head next.
Audi Forum Tokyo
There is arguably no more defining feature in the contemporary Japanese architectural scene than the Audi Forum. This winningly wonky glass and steel creation is well worth the trip to the Harajuku district (and there are plenty of other places to see when visiting the area). Often called “The Iceberg” for its cool tones and angular lines, a simple walk-by is enough to appreciate this amazing structure in all of its glassy glory.
Snack and Observe at the Tsukiji Fish Market
Take a tour–or brave the aisles sans guide–of the Tsukiji Fish Market for an inside look at the culinary industry in Japan. Fishmongers and chefs bid over massive fish early in the morning. So, be sure to rise early to get a real sense of the sushi-making scene. After ogling the market’s wares, it’s breakfast time! The market features street food stalls, so you can stop for bites as you peruse rows of seafood. (There are options for vegetarians at the food stalls as well.)
Participate in a Tea Ceremony
Tea ceremonies are perfect for foodies and design nerds alike. A huge part of Japanese culture, these rituals include beautifully designed bowls, teapots and ceremonial tools. Visitors to Japan can participate in an abbreviated tea ceremony in a local tea house, or take part in a more extended meal with multiple courses of treats. After venturing through busy Tokyo, this could be the perfect respite during an otherwise busy trip.
Visit Kabuki Theater
Finally, no trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to a Kabuki theater. Traditional Kabuki theater is, like most things in Japan, a thoughtfully performed art. The theaters themselves are beautiful architectural monuments. And once inside, the beauty continues with dramatic stage productions. With performances from one hour long to several, it’s the perfect way to interact with Japan’s performing legacy in an afternoon or evening.